Homeowner How To: Safety First! The Scoop on Carbon Monoxide


There are fewer things more important than the safety and well-being of you and your family. It is a good idea to invest in a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke detector, even more so ...

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When it gets cold out, you start to hear stories about house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. This is true every year, but even more so this year, since many folks on Long Island are stranded in their homes after Superstorm Sandy and trying to keep warm while they attempt to fix up their homes and make them liveable.

It is extremely dangerous to use propane heaters indoors, gas powered tools or cooking devices indoors. If you are using a fireplace, gas stove or another heat source to keep warm, get a battery operated carbon monoxide and smoke detector. Something as simple and inexpensive as this can literally save your life and the lives of those you love.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is almost impossible to detect as it is colorless, odorless and tasteless. But inhaling even relatively small amounts of the gas can lead to neurological damage, hypoxic injury, unconsciousness and death. Initial symptoms can include nausea, headache, dizziness and fatigue.  With prolonged exposure, symptoms can include vomiting, weakness, amnesia, depression, confusion, chest pain, delirium, hallucinations, unsteady gait and seizures. There may be no warning at all if you are asleep. It only takes a few minutes of prolonged exposure to this danger to kill you.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, and about 4,000 people are hospitalized. Fatalities are most often among Americans 65 and older.

If you think you or someone you love may be suffering from CO poisoning, get out of the house immediately and go to the nearest hospital or an urgent care facility for treatment. If you think there may be a gas leak, call for emergency services and dial 911 immediately.

Here are a few tips from the CDC to prevent CO poisoning in your home:

  • Always have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced every year.
  • Vent your gas appliances properly. Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented. Your vents should always be installed on an angle. Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum or something else…this kind of patch can cause CO to build up in your home.
  • Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year. Debris blocking your chimney can cause CO to build up inside your home.
  • Never cook or heat your home with a gas range, barbeque or charcoal grill or a portable gas camping stove indoors.
  • Never use a generator INSIDE your home, basement or garage… or near a window, door or vent.
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. Even if they don’t have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home.
  • If you smell an odor from your refrigerator’s cooling unit, get it serviced immediately. It could mean you have a defect and it could be giving off toxic gas.
  • When purchasing gas equipment, only buy items that carry the seal of a national testing agency, such as the CSA group.
  • Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and make sure it works!

There are fewer things more important than the safety and well-being of you and your family. It is a good idea to invest in a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke detector, even more so if your house was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and you are spending a substantial amount of time in it while repairs are being made.

If you were lucky enough to survive the storm with relatively little damage, be sure to check these and make sure they are still working on a regular basis. Always change the batteries in these devices at least twice a year, or when you change the time on your clocks in the spring and fall.

Stay warm and stay safe while you renovate!  Don’t leave your safety, life and the lives of your family to chance.